While watching the Seahawks play Arizona to analyze Deon Butler's play, it was all but impossible not to be distracted Mike Williams. Hasselbeck looked his way early and often, with the third play of our first drive following the short pass to Butler and an incomplete pass to Baker was a beautiful sideline route by BMW, who easily outjumped the Cardinals defender. He would end the game with 11 receptions on 17 targets for 145 yards. Not homerun numbers, but numbers that show him being used often to keep the chains moving, as well as splash plays like the above-mentioned 32 yard reception.
At the end of the Tate article, I noted Mike Williams is "probably too much of a WR/TE tweener to be a WR1". Danny similarly noted in his assessment of our wide receiver depth that BMW strikes him more as a #2 possession guy than a number one, vertical threat. And it's true, the prototype for an NFL wide receiver is a big guy who can - to quote the immortal Randy Moss - "take the ball deep, take the top off the defense". Mike's not that guy, not now and not in the coming season. But how many NFL teams have "that guy" on their roster?
The best example I can think of to argue against the prototypical number one wide receiver is Larry Fitzgerald, generally considered either the best or one of the best wide receivers in the NFL today. Fitzgerald isn't slow, but he's not particularly fast either. He is in many ways a typical possession receiver, but he redefines the position by the quality of his play. He doesn't need to go deep often because of his amazing catch rate, positioning himself well and making catches in seemingly impossible situations. If you think Fitzgerald looks covered, throw it anyway because he's probably not.
BMW is not that player. It's not much of an indictment to say he doesn't match the player with the best hands in football, but it's true Williams' hands are not his strongest suit. He doesn't need them to be. Williams is 6'5 and 235 pounds, which is already a headache for wide receivers, but add to that the fact that he has uncanny body control. That means he's not limited to beating shorter corners with jump balls, it means he can stretch his long limbs every which way with a defender right on him, which gives a quarterback the opportunity to put the ball outside of the defender's range while still easily reachable for Mike Williams.
Mike Williams converted on 59% of his targets in 2010. That's not a bad number and it's not a great number, it's fairly average. And it's not his ceiling. In the Cardinals game, with the offense clicking on all cylinders and Matt Hasselbeck feeling the connection with BMW, the catch rate rises to 64%, with BMW's catches regularly producing a fresh set of downs. Receiver stats are always dependent on quarterback play (more than vice versa). For instance, the Cardinals' insistence that their rotation of straw-filled dummies made for legitimate quarterback play resulted in a sub-par season for Fitzgerald, with a 52% catch rate.
He doesn't run crisp routes but he's not limited in the arsenal of routes available to him. When asked to go deep, he isn't the quickest guy but he is adequately fast once he has a full head of steam. His hands aren't great, most noticeably in 8 drops in his first 9 games, leading the NFL. But that was followed by a streak of drop-free games - until he again dropped a pass against the Saints in the wild card game.
What's more, if you watch the games where he excelled, he generally made the players around him better too. Butler could not make much of the opportunity, but Obomanu's various mid-to-long catches in the Saints game came in situations where he was wide open.
Then consider we're talking about his first season as a serious NFL player. Consider he missed three and a half games which helps explain his tepid numbers, 17Power projecting them out to a full season of 83 receptions for 961 yards and 3 touchdowns. The only worrisome number there is the touchdown numbers, and with no lack of trust in him as a redzone target (13 targets in the redzone according to FFArmory.com) nor a lack of ability making catches in tight spots, I'll consider that more flukey than anything. We're in a lockout off-season so it's harder than usual to get reliable updates on players, but there's no reason right now to doubt BMW's dedication, as he is reported (albeit by himself) as working out up to 6 hours a day. Considered in that light, his numbers are impressive and just a first step along the way as he continues to work hard to improve physically. If the offense in general improves, so should his numbers.
I'm hardly the first to consider this question, and I'd like to take the opportunity to link to 17Power's excellent article on this topic, and thank it for pointing out many numbers I used in these articles. Tomorrow, we're coming back to this to discuss why Mike Williams is not a number one wide receiver.